Getting Started in Security

Bill yourself as code-compliant and follow the rules:

Electronic security systems forecasts show continued industry growth; in fact, some studies indicate this $16 billion market will grow at an annual rate approaching 7 percent. Sales and installation of security and fire alarm systems, especially in residential, offer a relatively easy way for an electrical contractor to get into the market.

The wise contractor can also monitor alarm systems using an Underwriters Laboratories (UL)-listed monitoring company, referred to in the industry as a central station. Members of the Central Station Alarm Association (CSAA), Vienna, Va., offer UL listed and other credentialed monitoring services (

Installing security systems allows you to place your company label on the control panel and decals on the windows, which help to expand your image and develop name recognition in the security and fire alarm business. In turn, this will help generate more sales from the neighbors of your initial customer.

With any venture into a new market comes new responsibilities. You will need to determine what security and fire alarm equipment offers the most reliable service. You will need to determine whether the manufacturer of that equipment offers acceptable training and technical service to support the products.

To set yourself apart from other people in the security market, you can promote “code-compliant” fire alarm and security systems. The National Fire Protection Association’s NFPA 72-2007, National Fire Alarm Code, will serve as your principal guideline for the fire alarm portion.

Most contractors in the security business do not even know NFPA has begun to establish itself as a code and standards developer for the security industry. NFPA recently published NFPA 731-2006, the Standard for the Installation of Electronic Premises Security Systems. While no building code currently requires the use of this standard, the fact that a nationally recognized standard now exists will motivate the professional contractor to follow it as a “standard of care.”

The standard “covers the application, location, installation, performance, testing and maintenance of electronic premises security systems and their components.” Its stated purpose “is to define the means of signal initiation, transmission, notification, and annunciation; the levels of performance; and the reliability of electronic premises security systems.”

NFPA 731-2006 also can assist the contractor in understanding the features associated with security systems as well as the procedures necessary to modify or upgrade existing security systems to meet a customer’s application needs. Those familiar with electrical installations can easily obtain the skills required to install security and life safety systems.

According to the standard, “electronic premises security systems can include one or more of the following system types: intrusion detection; access control; video surveillance; asset protection; environmental detection; holdup and duress; and integrated systems.”

The standard also recommends “the installers of electronic premises security systems should become familiar with the equipment they intend to install.”

Understanding security equipment and its application provides the first means of success. The second comes from understanding the market and its issues. False alarms continue to plague the security market. These annoying unnecessary signals have prompted the law-enforcement community to institute a “no response” policy and fines in many locales.

NFPA 731-2006 addresses this by instructing the professional contractor to know the limits of the devices and appliances for a particular design. In addition, “the installer should have an understanding of the causes of false alarms and methods that can be taken to decrease the possibility of their occurrence.” Studies point to user error as a primary cause of false alarms, so in-depth training of those deploying the system on a regular basis is critical.

Develop an understanding of local and state licensing laws. Although hairdressers and barbers must be licensed in every state, alarm contractors might not carry this requirement. Many states that have licensed security and fire alarm contractors will recognize the electrician’s license without the contractor applying for a separate license or taking additional tests. However, you may need to obtain a background check.

Homeowners will rely on your expertise to provide them with a security and fire alarm system installation that will keep them safe and secure. This reliance opens up certain additional liability issues your insurance program must address.

Join a local alarm association and find out what “standard of practices” the other contractors follow. This will help ensure you have the right contracts and understand the obligations you will encounter.

Security systems can offer a significantly profitable addition to your electrical contracting business. Understand your responsibilities before you jump in.            EC

Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. and is located at the Warwick, R.I., office.




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